April 9 is no day of celebration in Norway but the country was set to mark it this year on the 75th anniversary of its invasion by Nazi Germany. The invasion set off five years of occupation until liberation on May 8, 1945, a date which will be celebrated indeed.
On Thursday, though, there will be an official remembrance of the day Norway lost its freedom and sovereignty for five long years. King Harald will lay down a wreath at the National Monument at Akershus at 9am. There will be day-long events at the Oscarsborg Fortress in the Oslo Fjord, just off Drøbak, which played a key role in hindering the invading German forces. The president of the Parliament, Olemic Thommessen, will later lay down flowers and speak in front of the Parliament building (Stortinget), and two new exhibits about wartime history will open to the public.
One will be at the Parliament itself, featuring photos previously unpublished from the dramatic days in April 1940. “This is an important exhibit, because it’s 75 years since the Parliament was taken over (by German officials and their puppet government),” Thommessen told newspaper Aftenposten. “I think there are parts of this history that haven’t come forward earlier.”
He noted that the Parliament building was physically taken over by occupying German officials, and it was actively used by the occupying forces throughout the war years. “It is symbolically very strong to see how democracy and the constitution were set aside,” Thommessen said. The exhibit will be open from April 9 until May 8.
Several blocks away, at Norway’s historic Akershus Fortress and Castle, another exhibit will also open on Thursday inside its defense museum (Forsvarsmuseet). The exhibit, entitled “62 days – the fight over Norway,” also features items never before displayed, including the dress uniform and hat of Richard Schreiber, the German marine attaché to Scandinavia who knew the attack was coming and, according to museum officials, had a room at Oslo’s Hotel Continental at the time as he prepared to greet his conquering countrymen.
Newspaper Dagsavisen reported how Schreiber was supposed to put on his flamboyant uniform and be ready to welcome the Germans on board the battleship Blücher after it sailed up the Oslo Fjord, but it was torpedoed by Norwegian forces in one of their few spectacularly successful defense moves on April 9. Upon hearing that the vessel sunk off Oscarsborg with great loss of life, Schreiber reportedly panicked and fled, leaving his fancy military trappings intact at the hotel. They were later found, stored and will now go on display for the first time.
‘Threatening and chaotic’
The sinking of the Blücher, a surprising and disruptive defeat for the invading Germans, was credited with giving Norway’s royal family and government ministers enough time to flee Oslo. They set off on a chaotic odyssey, barely managing to stay a few steps ahead of the invaders trying to hunt them down and force them into capitulation. That didn’t happen, with King Haakon VII and Crown Prince Olav ending their nearly two months in flight by ultimately agreeing to board a British naval vessel and sail across the North Sea into exile in London, where government members also resurfaced and never surrendered.
The new exhibit at the defense museum, to be opened Thursday by Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, will become permanent and is meant to reflect the “threatening and chaotic” conditions of the spring of 1940, historian and project leader Mads Berg told Dagsavisen. It will be accompanied by another exhibit set to open on Liberation and Veterans Day on May 8 honouring those who helped win the war. It’s entitled Krigskorset (The War Cross), Norway’s highest military decoration.
“This will be a total experience,” Berg said, adding that it will also tell the story of civilian consequences with original copies of the posters set up around town and cities to mobilize Norwegian forces and summon all able-bodied men to duty. Norway held out until June 10, with fighting going on around the country until the Norwegian forces surrendered after the allied forces that had been sent to help defend Norway withdrew. The fighting between April 9 and June 10 cost the lives of 4,400 British, 1,335 Norwegian, 530 French and Polish and 5,000 German soldiers – and Norway’s real fight for survival was just beginning.